Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Little Night Music, Please

I have to admit I have had a little help in my writing sessions for the past few weeks. No, I haven't asked a noted author to serve as ghost writer. I have invited Mozart, Beethoven, Rossini, Dvorak, Tchaikovsky and many of their friends along for the ride.

Their help is invaluable.

It is a matter of creating the correct atmosphere to write. I have some unwritten rules when it comes to music while I create. First, no lyrics. I don't want words from a song distracting me. Second, the music has to fit who I am. I have heard from one author of horror stories that he loves to have heavy metal or hard rock playing. Good for him, but it's not a fit for me. Third, the music has to lead me along. As much as I was raised on Clapton, Hendrix, et al, the classical composers form a bond with me. Maybe it's my upbringing. I thank God I had parents who presented me with a wide range of performances to view when I was very young. We saw Polish dance troupes and Scottish marching bands, and I saw the Bolshoi Ballet doing "Swan Lake" on an American tour when I was maybe 13 years old. So, the old masters in the hands of great artists such as Itzhak Perlman or Josef Suk are familiar to me.

Does the music influence WHAT I write? No. I am writing a thriller/suspense novel, and the subject matter can get quite rough. (One of my favorite selections is the second movement of Beethoven's 9th Symphony, but I didn't choose it because of the piece's link to "A Clockwork Orange.") I can have something exceptionally mellow, like the Spring section of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons, on and type away about a killer tracking a potential victim.

Does the music influence HOW I write? Oh yes. I am so focused on my work. Maybe the complexity lifts my spirit and spurs me along. There might be a multitude of reasons. I do know this: I have had some amazingly productive writing sessions ... those 1,000-word days ... in the past few weeks. Do I think the music makes a difference? I know it does.

Sorry, but it's time for Eine kleine Nachtmusik ... a Little Night Music. Hello, Mr. Mozart. How are you doing tonight? Shall we spend a few minutes together?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Critique Groups? I Keep Them at Arm's Length

Lots of authors flock to their local writing club, etc., in part for a chance to join critique groups. I avoid them. It's not that I'm afraid of criticism. I'm a journalism copy editor, so I know the application of criticism is a valuable tool. I just think that critique groups, like so much of the publishing world, tends to pen authors into a middle ground and rejects the truly original.

There is a second part to my hesitance. I know my first novel will be trimmed and bolstered by an agent and editor, and I am fine with that. In both cases, I tip my hat (and lower my tendency for hurt feelings) because the input comes from professionals. The critique group? I don't see that level of professionalism there.

Let me illustrate. I sat down with another author and gave a short synopsis of my first novel. That novel has two story lines, is complex, my characters are conflicted and challenged constantly, the plot wanders across genres as I create little vignettes in both story lines, etc. The author listening to me writes vampire novels, and the look I got was like I was speaking a foreign language. The response from the other author was tepid, at best. I thought back later that if that author was in a critique group, she might comment that my novel might be well-served by adding a character that has fangs and draws considerably more blood ... but adding a touch of humor might help, too.

I don't shout this fact to the heavens, but I like thinking outside the box. I like writing outside the box. I like finding a path to a good plot that is unlike the paths taken by so many others. My fear of critique groups? That they will herd me back inside the box, and in the process try to get me to that soft, muddled (but very sellable) middle ground.

Is it a matter of integrity or profits? For writers such as Neil Gaiman, Jeffrey Deaver, James Patterson, John Hart, etc., etc., that question is moot. They are inside the velvet ropes. They are established. They will almost have to write their way out of favor now that they are able to do what publishing houses love most ... sell books. Me? I'm on the outside looking in, still knocking on the door about my first novel as I create my second. There is a cast of tens of thousands of us out here. But you know what? I'm not going to turn to those others out here and ask if they want to form a critique group.

Stay creative. Keep trying. Develop a thick skin. Believe in yourself. One of these days, someone else will believe in you, too. Amen.

Monday, January 16, 2012

A History of Violence? Only in Fiction

My blog has suffered, weighed down by holidays, job responsibilities and lots of time spent on writing my second novel. It's time to break through the malaise.

Do other authors who deal with violence have trouble writing those scenes? I have to be honest: I am no Stephen King. I don't feel comfortable with a parade of situations in which somebody gets whacked. However, as an author, I have to occasionally write such scenes. And when I write such scenes, I find myself with two realities. The first is that discomfort in facing the situation. The second is that the scenes are very easy to write once I enter into them.

Go figure.

I just completed a scene with a high level of violence. It's not Hannibal Lecter-level violence, but it concerns circumstances that will make anyone wince. Why? Because the principal antagonist in my second novel is that much of a bad ass. I have to prepare a counter to my antagonist in order to provoke tension and set up all the "black moments" that are ahead for both characters. The funny thing is that both my protagonist and antagonist are seasoned killers. They simply do what they do for vastly different reasons, and with vastly different moral foundations. One can be accepted by a vast majority of readers; the other will provoke hate.

Go figure.

What am I reading now? "Through My Eyes" by Tim Tebow. My son Mike gave me the book for my birthday, and his timing couldn't have been better. A Denver journalist getting an inside look at the most popular and reviled figure in the city these days is very worthwhile. To me, Tebow is very understandable once you know his background. Tebowing isn't show. It's as basic to him as breathing, and I respect him for standing up for what he believes and taking shots from those who don't accept his choices.

What's next on my agenda? I will send a query to one agent who caught my eye. I think I have found a kindred spirit regarding my approach to writing. Wish me luck.